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May 25, 2016

Don’t worry, Twitter isn’t going to broadcast all your replies

by John_A

Twitter just announced substantial changes to how tweets work — namely, removing photo, video links and mentions from the 140-character-per-tweet limit, to help give posts some creative breathing room. Some changes to the way “@” replies work means you’re going to see even more tweets in your feed from people you follow. Most importantly, perhaps, the company wants to reduce confusion for new users — which it sorely needs more of.

But while the social network attempts to streamline and clarify, some of the changes are slightly confusing. We have some lingering questions after reading the company’s brief blog post announcing the news. Do the changes mean unlimited mentions in tweets? (Spoiler: Of course not.) Will your followers see all your reply tweets? Well, that depends.

Twitter is getting rid of the workaround people used to reply to others in such a way that their followers could see the conversation in their feeds. Instead of “.@engadget” when mentioning this site (while showing your followers that you were saying something), “@engadget” will now suffice. (One character saved!) Think of this as a “mention tweet”, started from scratch. Your followers would see this when the changes came into being.

However, if you were replying to an existing “@engadget” tweet, this would be in a “reply style” and would only be seen by users that followed both you and @engadget — not all your followers. (If you want your followers to see a reply, that’s where the new ability to retweet yourself comes in.) Usernames in tweets wouldn’t count against your “reply” character limit, but they will be counted in “mention” tweets. When I put it that way it makes more sense but yes, it’s initially a bit confusing. (It’s worth remembering that up until 2009, you saw every tweet of someone you follow: the whole Twitter firehose.)

While usernames won’t count toward your character count on replies, there’s still a limit of fifty. A Twitter spokesperson added that while this may change later, this is the current cap. Fine with us: Fifty usernames sounds pretty intense as it is.

Now let’s go back to the loss of the “.@username” hack. New tweets that begin with a username will now be broadcast to your followers by default — even if you only wanted a few people to see it. Sorry, Twitter, but not everything starts with replying to someone else’s tweet. With these changes, even if you wanted to make a snarky in-joke to a friend, everyone following you will see it. It’s like a hushed, one-on-one conversation in a pub is broadcast on loudspeakers to everyone else in the bar. Fortunately, at least, Twitter users will probably find ways around whatever features they don’t like.

Twitter, for its part, will be happy, as these tweaks will almost certainly stimulate more conversation, more retweets, more replies and more likes. The social network could suddenly get very loud. It could make the most vocal Twitter users you follow seem even more vocal — possibly to a cloying degree. The same could be said for the ability to retweet and quote yourself. We’ll reserve judgement until the go into effect, but remember: The mute and block buttons are there for a reason.

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